Aroostook County homeless shelter helps hurricane victims find new home

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine - Eric Marcano knows what it feels like to lose everything. He and his wife Elizabeth were living in Fajardo, Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria ripped through last fall.

"You could hear stuff ripping off," said Eric. "You could hear stuff banging. It was like it was talking to you. The hissing -- it was scary."

The couple lost their home and all that went with it. Having no reason to stay, they left the island and came all the way up here. They took refuge with friends they had in Madawaska, but soon had to leave that apartment because the landlord wouldn't allow that many people living in the space. They were homeless in a foreign land and their last hope was the Sister Mary O'Donnell Homeless Shelter in Presque Isle.

"I'd never been through this, I was kind of scared. I felt weird for being here and then sharing and being where there's a lot of people. I like having my own home that I can do what I want when I want," said Eric.

But it's the only option they had, so they moved in at the end of January. At first they didn't know what to think, but as time went on, the people there surprised them.

"The people were awesome. It was a good experience."

Perhaps one of the most special people he met through this experience was Heidi Rackliffe. She was assigned to him as a family coach to make a plan for him and his wife to exit the shelter with the support and skills needed for success.

"Most people when they go to the homeless shelter are in pretty dire straits," said Rackliffe. "Every story is different, but when you hear his story of surviving a natural disaster and really starting from the ground up, it definitely pulled at your heart strings a little bit differently."

Eric says that he wouldn't have anything if it weren't for her.

So, what does he have now? A home to call his own. He and his wife found out last week that they'd be able to move into an apartment in Madawaska.

"I started calling my friends, I called my pops in Puerto Rick - told him the situation," said Eric. "He's like I can't believe it, he's like I don't want you to come back, stay over there."

The couple made arrangements to move into their new home as soon as they found out they could go.

Rackliffe says obtaining legal documents from a ravaged area made his case extra challenging, but it all came together. And she's just about as happy as he is. "This is something that we do all the time so Eric is one of many cases that we're able to rehouse. But it doesn't matter how many times you do it, it is still one of the best experiences you can do in my field, to be able to tell someone that they can leave the homeless shelter and that they have their own home. Best, most rewarding part of the job."

"I'm going to be grateful for the rest of my life," said Eric. "I'm just happy that I can just go home and be happy that's it. I just wanna go up there and enjoy the rest of my life."

The couple is now settled into their new home and Eric says they don't plan to leave Madawaska anytime soon.

It was an incredibly difficult situation that would leave any of us desperate. But it was one small homeless shelter, thousands of miles from home, that gave this man hope.

"I lived in a homeless shelter for a month and I'm happy about it," said Eric "I'm going to tell people to come to the shelter. I'm going to tell my friends in Puerto Rico that if you need any place to come, you gotta be in Presque Isle at the shelter because that's where you're going to get your help."

Because when you lose everything, the first step to a new life is starting with something.